16 Jan 2011

HuTong Dumpling Bar

HuTong Dumpling Bar
16 Market Lane
Melbourne 3000

(03) 9650 8128

Trading Hours
Sun ~ Thu
11:30am ~ 3pm
5:30pm to 10:30pm

Fri ~ Sat
11:30am ~ 3pm
5:30pm to 11:00pm

Licensed & BYO (wine only)

I cannot think of a better name than HuTong for a Chinese restaurant
located in a small lane way in Chinatown serving authentic dumplings.
Hu Tong reminds me of Beijing. It used to be a typical culture and lifestyle of the old Bejing.
Walking pass the small and narrow alleys; visiting friends who live in Shiheyuan, a traditional courtyard residences; going to homemade mama style family run restaurants serving Peking Style Chinese cuisine; and most importantly eating endless choices of food you would find all over China.
It's really the best place for a food addict like me.

What we ordered:
Soup Dumplings
Wonton in Hot Chilli Sauce
Money Bag
Silken Tofu with Century Egg
Hot & Sour Soup

We first discovered this three storey HuTong Dumpling Bar after dinned in Flower Drum (named the best Chinese Restaurant in town which also located in Market Lane) a long time ago. The only thing we knew about it was this place was incredibly busy til late. I assumed their food must be so good to attract that many customers.

So, just after the New Year, while most people were still in their holiday mood,  roads were empty and shops were quiet, we decided it was the best time to dine out there. Around 6pm on a Monday night, we went in without booking. Didn't think I need to book before hand as it was in the early evening in a weekday and there were so little people on the street. I was so wrong. It seemed everyone were inside that little restaurant enjoying their food and left the road empty. "No table. Do you want to come back in 50 minutes?" asked the waiter.

Wondered around  in the city for almost an hour made me wanted to try the food even more.

With such a high expectation and a dream of finding the best soup dumplings (Xiao Long Bao) in Melbourne, we finally got our table when we returned. There were a couple with suitcase entered before us without booking. No surprised, there was no table available. Bad luck, I felt sorry for them. I could imagine how anxious they were to try the restaurant which they believed to be one of the best in town and be the first or last must do thing wether they were just arrived or leaving the city.
So if you want to try this place, book ahead.

We got a table on the ground floor next to the large window. Chinese opera were playing softly, wooden tables and stools with modern decoration. Great atmosphere for a cheap eat Chinese restaurant, I especially like the raw red brick industry wall and their colourful and picturesque menu.

No doubt they are specialist in dumplings as it's name says it all "Dumpling Bar". By surprised, there were not many dumplings to choose from. Only the basic ones, like pork, prawns, spinach and maybe a few others. I thought they might serve some Pekineses food as they use the name "HuTong" or Shanghai style cuisine as their best dish and widely talk about is soup dumplings. However, apart from dumplings they mainly serve Szechuan cuisine, hot and spicy!

My Darling hubby is a huge soup dumpling lover, and he always loves Chinese food. We've tried almost every single Chinese restaurants in Chinatown over the years, most of them are Cantonese (southern China) style Chinese cooking and to be honest, not many of them served excellent Chinese food and less of them provide outstanding services. There's a new trend in Melbourne of Szechuan cuisine. Good news for those who loves hot and spicy food. I always wonder, why there's so little or nearly non authentic Peking style or Shanghai style cuisines served in Melbourne?

While we were having our dinner, there were passengers looked through the window and stared at our dishes, wondered what we were eating, deciding whether to come inside. This was a bit strange but on the other hand, we've got the opportunity looking into it's glassed in kitchen and watching the chefs making dumplings. Wow, how good was that, until we tried our food.

"Please let this place be the king of soup dumplings in Melbourne, please be something as good as Din Tai Fung or nearly as good". It turned out the food were okay but nothing special. The soup dumplings filled with pork were nice. Served in a traditional bamboo basket, the skin was smooth and tender except the crown area was a bit hard(either the skin was too thick or needed a little longer steaming time). There are many other Chinese restaurants serve good soup dumplings like the Spicy Fish city branch (best and lower price), Tea Garden in Oakleigh, or for more expensive crab meat fillings, go to Flower Drum just opposite the street.

A good soup dumpling should have very thin skin and a good portion of fillings. The skin shouldn't broken when lifting up by chopsticks and there shouldn't be soup coming out if you turned the dumpling upside down when serving. My favourite soup dumpling restaurant is Din Tai Fung. So lucky to have them in Sydney. I've tried their restaurants in Taipei, Hong Kong and Sydney, never disappointed.

The wonton in hot chilli sauce was the highlight of the night. So delicious! The sauce made with chilli oil, sesame oil, dry chilli, Szechuan pepper corn, soy sauce, vinegar and spring onion was beautifully done and that was the best dish of the meal.

Then it came the money bag, a nightmare and our night went downhill from there. The meat was tasteless, cold inside and the skin was hard. It seemed like being stored in the fridge for ages and not fresh at  all.  At $8 for three, it was definitely overpriced. Any place have yum cha would serve a better dim sum than that. The Cantonese version is called sui mai with pork and prawn fillings.

Our second last dish was the silken tofu with century egg. The tofu was smooth and fresh, great dish but the sauce was a disaster. I cannot imagine the dish was soak in a bowl of soy sauce. Yes, plain soy sauce with a few drops of sesame oil. Too salty for me. However, surrounded by happy customers (most of them were westerners) around us, I guess "food for some, poison for others".

Last we had the hot and sour soup which I thought would come first. But that was not big deal as northern people in China serve their soup after the meal, and Cantonese serve our soup before it. I had a spoonful then handed it over to my hubby as he always likes hot and sour soup. One of he's favourite dish. He didn't finished it and when we went out of the restaurant, he lower he's voice and said" the hot and sour soup sold in food court, Box Hill taste better than that! It was lack of flavour, by that I mean no flavour." Sigh!
The soup tasted like water mixed with corn flour. Thick and tasteless.

We were a bit disappointed as the restaurant has a high recommendation and good reviews.
Overall, it's still a nice cheap eat spot and we might go back for more wontons.

Many people have mentioned about their poor service but it didn't bother me at all.
I found their service was alright.
At least better than many cheap eat restaurants where the wait staffs have an attitude problem.

Cuisine: Chinese
Food: Average
Service: Average
Atmopshere: Good
Value: $ cheap
Recommend: Average

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